Faithful Lay People and the Defense of Religious Freedom, The Anchor, June 28, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
The Anchor
Putting into the Deep
June 28, 2013

Have you heard how the Alabama legislature made it illegal to give any assistance at all to illegal immigrants, including medical care if they were dying, food if undocumented children were starving, spiritual care if they were contemplating suicide, pregnancy assistance if they were contemplating abortion, or any type of spiritual nourishment?

Have you heard how pharmacists in Illinois and Washington were forced by their legislatures to prescribe against their conscience potentially abortion-causing drugs, like Ella and Plan B?

Have you heard how Justice Department attorneys argued in a recent case called Hosanna Tabor that religious groups have no right to choose its leaders from among those believe and live by its religious tenets, that federal anti-discrimination laws trump any claims to religious freedom, an argument the Supreme Court rejected 9-0 last year?

Have you heard how Justice Department lawyers argued before federal courts that the belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman is an unconstitutional form of bigotry?

Have you heard how Catholic adoption agencies in Boston, San Francisco, Washington DC and Illinois have been forced out of adoption and foster care services for not placing children in same-sex homes?  How a Methodist ministry in New Jersey was held in violation of state law for refusing to allow two lesbians to conduct a civil union ceremony on its private property?

Have you heard that the Obama Administration is still compelling religious charitable institutions, like Catholic hospitals, universities and social service agencies, to fund and facilitate employee insurance plans to pay for sterilizations, abortion-causing drugs and contraception? How they are still coercing private business owners to do the same against their consciences?

Have you heard how a U.S. Army Reserve presentation included Catholics and evangelicals in a list of terrorist “extremists”? How a committed anti-Christian activist named Michael Weinstein — who has called talking to another soldier about issues of faith “spiritual rape” — is now advising the Pentagon on policy for chaplains and has proposed court martials for making others uncomfortable through simple things like having a Bible on one’s desk? How Walter Reed Hospital Chief of Staff C.W. Callahan a couple of years ago banned family members and others from bring any religious items — Bibles, reading material, rosaries, etc. — into the hospital or using them to pray with injured soldiers (an outrageous policy that has since been rescinded under political pressure)?

Have you heard how the IRS muscled Christian pro-life groups as part of its outrageous discrimination against those who might have objections to administration policies? How the IRS tried to pressure the Coalition for Life of Iowa to have its board members sign under penalty of perjury a promise not to picket or protest outside of Planned Parenthood facilities in order to obtain non-profit status? How various other groups, like the Christian Voices for Life, were asked about their involvement in 40 Days for Life and about the content of their prayers in the various meetings? How it audited — more precisely, made life miserable for six months— for writers like Franciscan University of Steubenville Professor Anne Hendershott for having written articles critical of objectionable parts of Obamacare?

These are just some of the many threats to religious freedom conscientious citizens are confronting in the United States.

It’s for this reason that the Church in our country is now in the midst of the second Fortnight for Freedom, an intense two-week period of prayer, education and action, convoked to confront these growing incursions by secularist judges, legislatures and executive branch incursions against the religious freedom.

The Fortnight for Freedom is a ringing alarm clock seeking to awaken religious believers and constitution-loving citizens to begin to exercise greater vigilance in protection of their freedoms.

It’s a time for Catholics in particular, during this Year of Faith, to come to know their faith and defend it with courage and perseverance against illegitimate attacks by governments and bureaucrats that are supposed to serve rather than intimidate and coerce us.

In the last couple of months there have been three massive scandals that should make all citizens especially watchful. The Department of Justice’s monitoring of the cell phone records of journalists potentially involved in stories exposing things injurious to the administration, the IRS’ bias and bullying against conservative and Christian groups, and the intrusive NSA monitoring of US citizens daily interactions all raise profoundly serious questions as to whether those in the administration respect the rights of citizens enshrined in the Constitution and the Law. They also suggest that some in government — in clear violation of constitutional and statutory prohibitions — think that they are entitled to use the organs of government against, rather than in service of, law-abiding citizens.

For some time the US Bishops have been calling all citizens, but particularly Catholic faithful, to increased vigilance and counteraction with regard to violations against religious freedom. The Fortnight is meant to enhance those efforts.

The question is how many Catholic lay faithful are taking these appeals seriously and responding with prayer, study, and involvement.

The most articulate spokesman in the United States on religious freedom concerns, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, has been summoning Catholic laity to awaken from a social somnolence and fulfill the vocation Christ has given them to be salt, light and leaven of society.

In a June 19 interview with the National Catholic Register, he said, “Religious liberty as an ideal sounds lovely. But in the abstract, it has very little power. It has political force only to the degree that ordinary people believe and practice their faith — and refuse to tolerate anyone or anything interfering with their faith.

“The current White House,” he continued, “has a clear track record of ignoring the traditional American understanding of religious freedom and interfering with the activity of religiously inspired organizations. If lay Catholics accept that sort of government behavior without inflicting a political cost on the officials responsible for it, then they have no one to blame but themselves when they find that their liberties have gone thin.”

Unless lay faithful get seriously involved, all the bishops’ efforts to protect religious freedom will be in vain. “If laypeople don’t love their Catholic faith enough to struggle for it in the public square, nothing the bishops do will finally matter.”

The Fortnight for Freedom is meant to inspire all those in the Church love their faith enough to struggle for it in public.

It began on the vigil of the feast of St. Thomas More, the great English layman who refused to capitulate to King Henry VIII’s attacks against the consciences of British citizens and the rights of the Church. The two weeks encompass the feast days of so many great martyrs — Saints John Fisher, John the Baptist, Peter and Paul, the first martyrs of the Church of Rome, and Thomas the Apostle — all of whom courageously gave their lives rather than violate the truth they knew in conscience and give inspiration to believers today.

The Fortnight concludes on Independence Day, a forceful reminder that our freedom doesn’t come free and that so many national heroes — acting not only with patriotism but also disproportionately acting as a result of their Christian faith —  have shed their blood to keep us free.

If these martyrs who gave their lives out of fidelity to their faith in God, and these soldiers who died to keep us free, were alive today, they would doubtless be urging all of us to get off our sofas and be as dedicated to the defense of faith and freedom as they were.

Whether our country remains the “land of the free and home of the brave” depends on our bravely exercising and defending our freedoms now against those in positions of government working to take them away.